This week I had the opportunity to spend some time in sunny Brisbane because I was at The Australian Sociological Association conference.
My paper was about social mix. Social mix can be used to describe people from different social classes, houses with different tenure (e.g. private ownership and public housing) or even a population spanning different ages within a suburb. It probably is rather reasonable to suggest that Port Melbourne demonstrates some degree of social mix. SIEFA data shows it is an area where we can find census collection districts rating in the highest decile of advantage right next to ones in the lowest decile. Also, people who live in the area often told me that it had a ‘mix’ of people. Social mix policies are often seen as one strategy for addressing inequality. However, I think it is interesting in that to talk about social mix only makes sense if we first divide people into categories.
Walking around Brisbane, I was amused to see a building with the name ‘Melbourne’ prominently displayed. Further down the street it became clear that the street was actually called Melbourne Street. On this street was a construction site promoting purchasing a piece of Melbourne Street. The street seemed to be a rather busy road, so I was not too sure why you would want to live there. Perhaps it was to do with zoning (so you do not have apartments on other streets nearby); I should have had a closer look. However, I could not help but wonder if the word ‘Melbourne’ carries with it some symbolic capital. (Although probably not as much symbolic capital as ‘The Manhattan’ between the centre of the CBD and the nightlife area of Fortitude Valley.)
One of the other aspects of the advertising signage for the Fisher Lane apartments on Melbourne Street that interested me was that the place was described as the ‘missing link’ between two other places. This could be about Melbourne Street being a convenient place to live or placing people in between two areas that offer different lifestyle amenities. It also suggests that these areas are being bridged into a broader category of ‘inner city’.
Talking about the changes in property value in Port Melbourne, it was not unusual to hear people say that they knew it was going to happen because of what was happening in nearby suburbs (which were seen as similar). Beyond field work, from time-to-time I hear something about Coburg as the new Brunswick. Talking to one of the other PhD students yesterday, who spent time living in Sydney, she reflected (with a degree of amusement) that when she travels she often looks for where is ‘like Newtown’.
I do not think there is too much of a point to be made out of all this but it does serve as a reminder that categories are not just about making difference, they are also about drawing equivalences.